The gut microbiome is a community of billions of bacteria and fungi that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. They have an influence on metabolism, body weight, immunity, appetite and mood. The more richly diverse this community of microbes is in your gut, the lower your risk of disease and allergies.
The microbiome is the new buzzword and probiotics are a potential way of manipulating the gut microbiome. The human gut is populated by a variety of micro-organisms, both healthy and potentially harmful. The aim of a balanced gut microbiome is to have enough good bacteria to maintain a good state of health and immunity, and to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics are harmless “good” bacteria which have potential health benefits. They are affordable and easy to find on any supermarket or health store shelf, promising many benefits. But should you be taking them? According to a recent study conducted by the Weizmann Institute of Science, the answer is probably not. The study provides a detailed analysis of what happens in the stomach and small and large intestines when probiotics are taken orally. The results are not encouraging as minimal absorption was indicated, showing little, if any benefit. A summary of the study can be found here.
However, there are many ways in which the gut microbiota can be boosted naturally. Here are some suggestions:
- Increase fibre intake. The different fibres found in a variety of fruits and vegetable supports different microbial species. Good choices include leeks, onions, garlic and artichokes.
- Choose foods and beverages with a high polyphenol content. These antioxidants are fuel for microbes. Examples include: nuts, seeds, berries, olive oil, brassicas, tea (especially green tea) and coffee.
- Eat naturally fermented foods such as unsweetened yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and soy sauce.
- Steer clear of artificial additives commonly found in diet drinks and sugar free foods. These include sucralose and saccharin. They may disrupt the metabolism of microbes and reduce gut diversity.
- Spend more time outdoors. Those who live in the countryside tend to have better microbe diversity than city dwellers. Gardening and getting your hands dirty is a good idea!
- Studies have shown that eating a wide variety of foods in the first year of life has a good effect on the microbiome and may even reduce allergies.
- For newborn babies, breastfeeding is a wonderful source of pre- and probiotics.